Update on new screening test recommendations to help prevent cervical cancer
The National Cervical Screening Program has had a huge impact, halving both the numbers of women diagnosed with cervical cancer and those dying from the disease, since its introduction in 1991. In response to new evidence and technologies that have emerged in the past two decades, the Federal Government undertook a review to ensure the program continues to be as effective as possible in preventing cervical cancer in Australia.
Following this review, in April 2014, the Australian Government announced recommendations that a new ‘cervical screening test’ should replace the current Pap test. The Medical Services Advisory Committee (MSAC), has recommended for both human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinated and unvaccinated women that:
- an HPV test should be undertaken every five years;
- cervical screening should commence at 25 years of age;
- women should have an exit test between 70 and 74 years of age; and
- women with symptoms (including pain or bleeding) can have a cervical test at any age.
The HPV test is designed to detect HPV, which we know to be the first step in developing cervical cancer. The MSAC found that a HPV test every five years is even more effective than, and just as safe as, screening with a Pap test every two years. MSAC also determined that a HPV test every five years will save more lives and women will need fewer tests than in the current two yearly Pap test program.
The Procedure for collecting a sample for HPV testing is the same as the procedure for having a Pap test. A doctor or nurse will still take a small sample of cells from the woman’s cervix to send away to a laboratory to be examined.
It is anticipated that the changes will not be implemented prior to 2017. Therefore it is vital that women continue to have their Pap test as soon as they are due, so that any abnormal cells are detected early, monitored and treated if necessary to prevent cervical cancer. HPV vaccinated women still require cervical screening as the HPV vaccine does not protect against all the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.
For more information about the National Cervical Screening Program Renewal, visit the information page.